[Humanist] 24.630 on digital reading

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Jan 4 06:54:42 CET 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 630.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 3 Jan 2011 17:55:29 -0500
        From: Francois Lachance <lachance at chass.utoronto.ca>
        Subject: Meditations on the Book
        In-Reply-To: <20110103073604.C57D6C9B09 at woodward.joyent.us>


I know you have been suggesting that a way forward for humanists is to 
entertain a research program, to find an appropriate set of questions. 
Might I suggest that the way forward might be through a focus on an 
object: the book.

I offer some meditations:

The poet Robin Blaser concludes a poem collected in _Pell Mell_ with the 
following line: our battle with the book is our Buddhist battle.

Gregory Ulmer in _Applied Grammatology_ offers a view of a struggle with 
the book as a process of mourning:

The book is perhaps the most charged cathected object in Western 
civilization, representing, according to Freud's analysis of his own dream 
of the botanical monograph, the Mother. Derrida's frequent allusions to 
the need for mourning (a process associated with the child's defenses for 
dealing with the loss of or separation from the mother, an essential 
element of the entry into language), signaled by funeral knell in 
_Glas_, suggests that gramatological writing exemplifies the struggle 
to break the investiture of the book.

>From this century:

Margaret Wente in _The Globe and Mail_ concludes a piece about the rise of 
e-books with a litany of facts:

As George Will points out in Newsweek, three years ago, Facebook had 50 
million users, mostly under 24. Today, it has half a billion users, almost 
half of whom are over 35. It took 2 1/2 years to sell three million iPods, 
two years to sell three million Kindles, and 80 days to sell three million 
iPads. It takes 30 seconds to downlodad _Moby Dick_, and it costs $2.49. 

And from the New York Times, the words of a poet and musician, Patti 
Smith, upon receiving a National Book Award for nonfiction:

Ms. Smith, who worked as a clerk in Scribner's bookstore in Manhattan 
before finding success as a singer and songwriter of jagged, 
beat-influenced punk rock music, told the audience at the awards ceremony, 
"Please, no matter how we adavance technologically, please don't abandon 
the book -- there is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the 

I find it easy to love "a" book just as I find it difficult to imagine 
"the" book. Could it be that the humanities computing project that will 
animate the future is to spring from an intimate encouter with the 
particular materialities of the artefacts we have chosen to cherish?

Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large

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